Wednesday, August 30, 2006

exercise for fingers


Medium Rare


The room was dark and musty. Also, I could smell something like incense. Three mediums were seated at the round table –- as far as I could make out. They reminded me of the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. The mustiness was getting to me. Call me irreverent but the next thing that came to mind was: see no weevil.
Two of the mediums were quietly chanting a phrase. Over and over and over again.

I came here –- to this dilapidated cottage in the grounds of a Taoist temple –- not of my own volition. My aunt, who was pushing my elbow indicating I should sit at the table, settled into a creaky chair. Perhaps she needed to lose some weight. Perhaps she needed to get a life. But what she wanted most at this point was to make contact with her dead husband.

Of course I did not believe in all this mumbo-jumbo. Why should I, a woman of science with a Master’s degree in biotechnology? But what to do? I was my aunt’s only relative living near enough to her to drag along for this venture of folly.

I felt a nudge at my ribs. Apparently I was off day-dreaming again, and now I was supposed to link hands with Auntie May-Ta and one of the mediums, whose hand I doubted was freshly washed.

Goose pimples raised their tingling little heads on my forearms when I heard the middle medium chant, “Chen Cheng Kim, Chen Cheng Kim, Chen Cheng Kim!”

For heaven’s sakes, that’s not my aunt’s husband’s name, I thought. “Hey, guys,” I piped up. “His name was Chen Cheng Kee.” My deliberate, rather too loud enunciation reverberated in the room. Auntie May-Ta glared at me.

“Chen Cheng Kee, Chen Cheng Kee, Chen Cheng Kee…” the medium adjusted his chanting obediently. “Come to us, speak to us… Your wife is desirous of your presence.”

Oh, what hogwash! I was whinging and complaining in my head when, unexpectedly, my goose-pimply feeling turned into a top-to-toe sensation – which really got my attention. One by one, the mediums fell over out of their chairs. The hand of the one next to me slipped out of mine like a slimy squid.

Then I felt my jaw opening against my will, my throat tingling and my tongue moving.

A baritone voice came through my lips: “May-Ta, let me be in the cosmos... it is peaceful… aaaahhh… It has an end with these practitioners and 'solletica' of the 'boneses' contentment of the ways.” With a distinctive ‘ping!’ deep inside my head, I snapped back to my normal self.

“What the hell did I just say?” I asked no one in particular but turned to look at Auntie. She startled me: Her eyes were shining with tears. And her expression of near-ecstasy? It was a tad worrying. “Solletica was the brandname of the ointment I rubbed on your uncle’s limbs when they hurt,” she said, smiling. Was that supposed to explain everything? Never mind, at least she got what she wanted; she’s happy.

Meanwhile, the trio of mediums were getting off the floor and groaning – in pain or out of dismay over potential loss of income, I couldn’t be bothered to find out. Surely they don’t expect any money in a red packet after their fiasco? Auntie May-Ta made to pay them but I pressed it back into her purse. I took her elbow and guided her out into the sunshine.

After all, as a dutiful niece, I did all the hard work, didn’t I?


(597 words)
By Argus Lou (2006)


The above was an exercise to write around a phrase translated many times into other languages and finally back into English.

Original English Text:
There is a point to this exercise and it is tickling my funny bone.


Translated back to English:
It has an end with these practitioners and solletica the boneses
contentments of the ways.

6 comments:

Xeus said...

Hey, this is funny! I liked the part on correction of the uncle's name.

Argus Lou said...

Thanks, Xeus. You've a couple of uncles I don't mind having a seance with.

Lydia Teh said...

Argus, sorry-lah but I don't get it. What am I missing ah? But I like the the niece's cheeky voice.

Argus Lou said...

Lydia, the niece got 'possessed' instead of one of the mediums. ^_^
Glad you enjoyed the voice.

Lydia Teh said...

Argus, got that but what's "solletica' of the 'boneses' contentment of the ways" and your note about the translation?

Argus Lou said...

Sorry, Lydia. The 'transmission' from the nether world was not very good, so the dead uncle's words got a bit mixed up. But the aunt caught the word Solletica as it was the brand of ointment she used to rub into his aching legs or bones ('boneses').

It was just a writing exercise to use the garbled sentence, which was translated four times into different languages and back into English -- that's why it sounds so odd.

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)

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